HERMON, Maine — Town officials have commissioned a household income survey they hope will find Hermon eligible for water and sewer expansion grant money — work that if approved could delay planned improvements to Route 2 and the town’s village center.
The survey, which will be conducted by the Maine Rural Water Association, will focus on family incomes in the project’s target area — Route 2 from Billings Road to Coldbrook Road, and along Coldbrook from Route 2 to Autocar Lane, according to Town Manager Roger Raymond.
Raymond said the proposed $5.2 million expansion encompasses a more than three-mile stretch that has 97 buildings along it, including several apartment buildings.
It’s a concept that that town considered more than five years ago, he said. The plan, however, was shelved after a survey showed that Hermon’s $47,000-plus median family income was $10,000 over the maximum for grant funding from USDA Rural Development.
Local officials, however, decided to give the expansion another look after businesses along Route 2 said the quality of the local water supply was adversely affecting their operations, Raymond said. The addition of hydrants would improve fire protection, which he said would in turn reduce insurance rates for property owners as far as five miles away.
With respect to the sewer expansion, he said, soils in the target area “are fairly tight. It’s mostly clay and water and ledge, so certainly it would make a difference in terms of development. The lots wouldn’t have to be so big for residential development.”
Schools also could benefit, he said, noting that Hermon High School is 16 years old and the lifespan of most private septic systems is 20 to 25 years.
The town recently learned it could conduct a special survey of the target area to see if the median family income is lower than the townwide one, Raymond said.
To that end, the town sought and received the green light to proceed with the survey from Rural Development and Community Development Block Grant program officials, as long as the survey reflects their respective methodologies, he said, adding that Maine Rural Water Association is experienced in both kinds of surveys.
“The assumption is that the survey will reflect a much lower median family income,” he said, noting that many of the rental units in the target area are subsidized and that’s where the town’s older homes are located.
The original 2007 cost estimate for the work was $5.5 million. Tweaks to the plan — including shortening the work area and elevation changes that call for fewer pump stations — have more than offset inflation, he said.
In conjunction with the water and sewer work, the town hopes to get Bangor Gas to install natural gas lines and is looking to convert fiber optic lines — now underground and cased in concrete — into aerial lines, Raymond said. Getting the fiber optic lines above ground will give the town access to a side of Route 2 that is now off limits because of setback requirements.
If the town does qualify for grant money, the utility work won’t occur until 2015 — and that has a bearing on another major initiative, he said.
Hermon is on track for a nearly $1.5 million overhaul of its village center, a project local officials had hoped to complete in time for the town’s bicentennial in the summer of 2014, Raymond said.
The Route 2 upgrade, included in the state’s upcoming biennial transportation improvement program, calls for redoing the intersection of Route 2 and Billings Road and the stretch of roadway leading up to it, and an overlay of fresh pavement. Planned for the village center are sidewalks, crosswalks, drainage improvements and such amenities as pedestrian lighting, benches, trash receptacles and tree plantings.
The improvements are one aspect of the Village Master Plan residents adopted in 2009 as a way to create a pedestrian-friendly town center that complements the rural character residents want to retain.
Economic Development Director Ron Harriman says the sidewalks would link Hermon High and Hermon Middle School, making it easier for students to walk to and from school. Sidewalks on the opposite side of Route 2 would create a pedestrian connection between Camden National Bank and the Baptist Church.
On Tuesday, Harriman said the town just learned that the sidewalk project has received a major boost — a $583,200 grant from the Maine Department of Transportation’s Safe Routes to Schools Transportation Enhancement Program. Harriman said that landing the grant was a real coup for Hermon because it was among a handful of projects chosen from a field of roughly 90 applicants.